Kids Caught the Latest Trend? How to Raise Independent Thinkers

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Image via Katie Hurley

At five years old, my son already stands out. That’s not to say that he’s better or worse, above or below, he just stands out. He always has.

He keeps his hair long and curly, because that’s how he likes it. For two years, he has taken the pails and shovels in the preschool sandbox and created his own drum kit. He loves math, piano, and documentaries about animals. But he also loves to play. And he wants to connect with other kids. The only problem … is that most five-year-old boys don’t spend their free time mastering the latest Coldplay song on the drums. I've seen him try hard to like things that he doesn't really like (Star Wars and superheroes) just for the sake of fitting in, only to realize that those games make him feel less like him … and that’s not much fun.

It’s hard to think for yourself and go with your gut when friends, trends, media, and advertising increase the allure of simply fitting in. It’s hard to be the one with the homemade drum hit when he rest of the boys are engaged in an exciting game of Star Wars and it’s hard to be the music lover when everyone else plays video games.

Teaching kids to think for themselves is crucial. When kids can trust their own ideas, decisions, and dreams, they become more confident and are more likely to follow their dreams.

So how do you raise individuals when influence is everywhere? You start by building them up.

Support their passion.

We live in a musical home and it certainly comes as no surprise that our son gravitates toward music (although, if I had my choice, I would have preferred a less noisy instrument). It was only a matter of time before one of them began to play something. And, despite the loud banging on the drums that echoed through my head day after day the moment he turned three, we have supported his need to play music every single day. Will he one day become a musician on a professional level? Only time will tell (and right now he’s pretty sure “animal expert” is the way to go), but we will continue to support his passion until he finds a new one.

Kids develop passions early on and, although those passions might change over time, it’s important to support them along the way. Social convention sometimes causes us to put kids in the activities and sports that other kids are doing, but that’s not necessarily best for every child. It’s important to listen to their wants and needs and help them reach their goals. This reinforces the fact that their ideas have value. 

{ MORE: Parents Are More Powerful than Superheroes }

Listen when they talk.

Life can get in the way of listening. We all have moments of distraction, and technology isn't the only source. Sometimes the mental to-do list clouds the ability to really hear what another person is saying. Kids pick up on this. When parents check out, kids feel like their thoughts and ideas aren't worth sharing. Parents need to check back in.

My phone drives me nuts. I don’t like to feel like something is waiting that needs checking, so I tend to shove it in a drawer or leave it in my room. Sometimes I get behind on email or miss an alert to wish someone a happy birthday. On the flip side, it doesn't distract me. It’s the same with the to-do list. I know there are apps and calendars that can track my to-dos and keep me organized up to the minute, but those things seem to add to my distraction level. I keep it old school when it comes to list making. Pen and paper do the trick. Every night, after the kids are in bed, I write down the things that I truly need to do. Releasing it from my brain by putting it down on paper removes the distraction and enables me to wake up refreshed and ready to connect with my kids.

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When we take steps to minimize the white noise in our lives, we strengthen the bonds that we have with our children. Without the nagging feeling of something that needs attending, we can sit down with our kids and listen without interruption. 

{ MORE: Utah Becomes the First in the Nation to Legalize Free-Range Parenting }

Identify strengths.

Kids don’t always see what we see. Living in the moment and working through new and difficult tasks each day, kids sometimes get caught up in the small stuff. But we see the bigger picture. We see their strengths and how those strengths play out in their daily lives.

Helping kids identify and understand their strengths increases their self-confidence and builds positive core beliefs. When kids know that they are capable and have unique interests, they are better able to set and reach for their own goals.

What do you think?

Kids Caught the Latest Trend? How to Raise Independent Thinkers

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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